The best era of Fleetwood Mac is one of those questions that sounds obvious until you realise how wide of a net is actually cast. For most, it will be the Lindsay Buckingham-Stevie Nicks quintet that released Rumours, Tusk, and Tango in the Night, but there are a surprisingly large number of configurations that the Mac went through in their five decades together.
The Bob Welch era has quite a few vocal supporters, and some of the band’s best tracks, including ‘Sentimental Lady’ and ‘Hypnotised’, are a direct result of Welch’s leadership and songwriting. And then there’s the titanic original configuration of the band helmed by guitar god Peter Green. Fluke hits like ‘Albatross’ were more routinely upstaged by ferocious electric blues workouts like ‘Rattlesnake Shake’ and ‘The Green Manalishi (With the Two Prong Crown)’.
But if the Peter Green era has one signature song that continues to endure to this day, it would be ‘Oh Well’. Featuring nimble riff work from both Green and guitarist Danny Kirwan, the largely instrumental track is the clearest distillation of Green’s unmatched six-string prowess. From the acoustic blues of the song’s intro to the souped-up speed of the track’s double-time solos, ‘Oh Well’ is classic Fleetwood Mac for those in the know and a surprisingly hard-rocking throwback to those who only know the Mac for ‘Landslide’ and ‘Little Lies’.
‘Oh Well’ never actually left Fleetwood Mac’s setlist, despite Green himself departing less than a year after the single’s release. During the early tenures of both Welch and Buckingham, the new guitar players were expected to learn the riff-heavy song and play it live, since they themselves had yet to establish a strong catalogue of material. Even today, the song appears in the band’s setlist, now helmed by former Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers guitarist Mike Campbell.
It’s not just the Mac who crank out the mighty ‘Oh Well’. Jimmy Page took on the song with The Black Crowes during their collaboration in late 1999. Campbell had previous experience with the cover, seeing as how Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers included it in some of their later-era sets. Everyone from ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons to Deep Purple have taken on the song, but one of the more surprising covers come from California pop-rockers Haim.
While their studio material leans more towards the softer said, anyone who has seen the Haim sister play live knows that they can unleash a heavy torrent of hard rock whenever they like. Covers often play a part in that, and no song hits harder in the band’s live show than ‘Oh Well’. The spirit of Peter Green remains alive and well through the later generations of rock stars, and ‘Oh Well’ continues to wow crowds over 50 years after its initial release.
Check out Haim’s cover of ‘Oh Well’ down below.